Captive Sumatran Rhinoceros by David Ellis is licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is the smallest living rhino reaching a height of 1.5 m, a length of 2.5 m and a weight between 500 to 960 kg. With a short bristly coat, it is the hairiest living rhino. Captive individuals’ coats are long and shaggy due to the lack of abrasive vegetation. The Sumatran Rhinoceros uniquely is the only Asian rhino with two horns. The largest of the two being 15 to 25 cm, with the smallest being an irregular knob. Predominantly, they are used to create muddy wallows, pulling down food and moving through dense tropical forests. Furthermore, Wallace used both the Sumatran rhino and the Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sundaicus) on the island of Java in his theory of natural selection through islandisation.

Wallace’s Discovery

Sumatran Rhinoceros Molar

Donated to the BNSS by W. G Wallace, the molar tooth once belonged to Alfred Russel Wallace’s private collection. He obtained it travelling to Sumatra a large island in West Indonesia. Here he travelled with the natives, searching for wildlife to send back to Western science. Wallace stated in his 1969 book ‘The Malay Archipelago’, that the rhinoceros;

“still abounds, and I continually saw its tracks and dung, and once disturbed one feeding, which went crashing away through the jungle, only permitting me momentary glimpse of it through the dense underwood”.

This is likely due to the animal’s solitary nature. Instead, picked up by the natives, Wallace obtained a perfect cranium and teeth. Furthermore, Wallace used both the Sumatran rhino and the Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sundaicus) on the island of Java in his theory of natural selection through islandisation.

Conservation and Threats

Critically endangered, the last male in Borneo, Malaysia died in May 2019. Leaving one female. Parts of the island of Borneo are owned by three countries; Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. The last of the population resides in Indonesian Borneo and Northern Sumatra. Originally, in 1986 the population was 800. Now fewer than 80 rhinos remain. Threatened by poaching for the medicinal properties of the horn. Along with the deforestation of habitat for commercial purpose including coconuts, rubber, palm oil and rice. Resulting in further separating the sparse population. Consequently, reducing the opportunity for the solitary animals to form breeding pairs. Thus, it is proposed to move wild rhinos into captive breeding programmes.Therefore, allowing the management of population and breeding.